How To Write Coercion

(If your eyes bleed at bad writing, skip down to the good example. Really. Just go straight down there. Okay?)

Bad Writing:

“If you don’t come with me to the Xeegun’s gala, I will tear up your favorite Hoori plant!”

Zed’s face was purple with rage, but his hands were still and quiet. He opened his eyes wider, and raised his eyebrows before dropping them threateningly over his sharp gaze.

He breathed in, and then out, and it was as if a cloud of anger and ominousness drifted over his head.

Aloz blinked scornfully at the large space-pilot.

I don’t care if I do love him, she told herself, and wiggled her shoulders disdainfully.

She attempted to stare him down, but his jaw was thrust stubbornly forward, and she blinked, and let out an angry breath.

“I shan’t go anyplace where they wear the skins of my people on their shoes,” she said with reserved dignity.

Zed snarled, and turned dramatically away from her. He sighed loudly, and stomped towards the greenhouse chamber.

“And you leave my Hoori plant alone!” she cried after him. “Or else I will do something really awful to you, to get you back!”

“Ha!”

Zed put his chin into the air and stomped away. She will be sorry, he told himself, his lips curled in anger and fury.

Good Writing:

“We’re going to the embassy tonight,” Zed said, dropping into the lounge beside her, and tipping his head back against the cushions.

“Which embassy?” Aloz asked. Her delicate fingers smoothed over the yellow fur of her thighs, and Zed watched her hands appreciatively.

“Wear your little black thing,” he said, staring at her shapely knees. “The one that goes down in the back.”

Aloz turned to face Zed, her eyes sharpening.

“Zed,” she said. He lifted his gaze to her eyes, and a sour smile teased at the corners of his mouth. Aloz’s shimmering fur bristled sharply over her shoulders, and her pointed incisors showed between her black lips. “I will not step foot in any house belonging to Xeegun!” she exclaimed. “I will not.”

“But sweet love,” Zed coaxed.

“No!” she cried, tears of distress sparkling in her tawny eyes.

Zed inched closer to her, and she sprang to her feet.

“Aloz,” Zed said sharply, and she froze, her back to him.

“What?” she demanded.

“I don’t want to cause you pain, but they’ve had a bounty out for fresh hides for a month now, and if they realize I’ve lost control of you—” He did not say anymore, but the tension between their bodies was like burning fire.

“All right,” she murmured. Zed watched her go out of the room, her tail lashing softly from side to side behind her.

Coercion:

noun the practice of persuading someone to do something by using force or threats.

In the first, bad example, Zed threatens to harm Aloz’s special plant if she doesn’t go to the embassy party. This is ineffective coercion because the stakes (Aloz will be skinned and worn as a pair of shoes) are completely out of proportion to the threat (I’ll kill your pet plant!).

In the second, good example, Zed maintains a sense of fellowship and neutrality (I can’t protect you from them if you don’t help me) while touching on the actual stakes (you will be killed, and I can’t stop them), creating a sense of legitimate tension and suspense.

Can You Give Me Easy Guidelines For Making Coercion?

 

Saying, “I’m going to hurt you real bad!” when you clearly don’t understand what the other party values is hardly a threat. However, saying, “I perceive you value this thing immensely. I will harm it, or steal it if you don’t do what I say,” is very effective.

Second, the party utilizing coercion must have a track record of following through.

Have you ever known a person who said, “I’m going to go to the gym every day for the rest of forever!” and then they never went? Or someone who shouted at their child, “If you do that again, you will never taste candy again!”

Threats don’t work if everyone knows you don’t follow through.

Saying, “I will put this blaster against your kneecap and pull the trigger,” and then following through instantly gives you a sort of reputation as a dangerous person. The more your character follows through on their statements, the more dangerous they will become to others, and the more effective their coercion will be.

And Finally

Something that makes coercion effective is a light veneer (or a deep dumping-on) of empathy.

“I’m on your side.”

“I’m trying to help you.”

“This is the only way we can improve the situation.”

“I’m helping you do something strong/brave/wonderful.”

You see this constantly in thrillers and in domestic abusers, when the villain (who is often the person using coercion) threatens the other party to force compliance, while simultaneously building up a relationship bond of togetherness.

“We are the same.”

“I’m on your side.”

“We’re fighting for the same end goal.”

“If you would just cooperate, we would both get what we need.”

Summing Up

  1. Stay pinned to the real facts
  2. Follow through
  3. Empathize

Follow these three rules, and you’ll be writing riveting coercion like a pro in no time!

You’ve been reading a blog about writing by Victor Poole. Ajalia uses buckets of coercion against the bad guys in my books, which you can find here. May Thor smile upon your endeavors this afternoon.

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